May 26, 2014

Lambrecht: How Notre Dame Will Take Down Duke

by Gary Lambrecht | | May Madness Home

Sophomore sensation Matt Kavanagh will conclude his epic NCAA tournament performance by leading Notre Dame to a 15-14 victory over Duke in Monday's championship game, predicts Gary Lambrecht. 

BALTIMORE – Following his team's dismissal of Maryland, an 11-6 beating on Saturday that put the Fighting Irish in Monday's NCAA men's lacrosse championship game against Duke, Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan took a playful swipe at those wishing the Irish had gone away earlier in May.

Corrigan couldn't resist reliving the improbable quarterfinals scene a week earlier at Hofstra. Sixth-seeded Notre Dame, trailing Albany by five goals with eight minutes left in regulation, staged a stunning comeback to win in overtime and eliminate the unseeded darlings trying to break into their first final four.

The Irish had to spoil the Cinderella party for the Great Danes and the countless fans clamoring to see Lyle and Miles Thompson, the most popular attack tag team in the sport, ride a cool underdog story to M&T Bank Stadium.

"I wanted to come to the press conference [after Notre Dame's 14-13 victory] and apologize to all of those people who wanted to see Albany [in Baltimore]," Corrigan quipped. "I think there were 37 people cheering for us [at Hofstra] in a sellout crowd of 13,000. That's fine with us. We like being those guys."

"Those guys" have become the most notable late bloomer of 2014. "Those guys," with a six-game winning streak that has made people forget the Irish (12-5) were on the NCAA tournament bubble a month ago, comprise the only underdog story left in the tournament.

Notre Dame, four years removed from a 6-5 overtime loss to Duke on Memorial Day, must be relishing their position as major underdogs.

How many people would you guess honestly give them a chance against the top-seeded Blue Devils? How many really believe Notre Dame, even with supremely talented sophomore Matt Kavanagh leading a dangerous offense, can bring its first lacrosse championship back to South Bend by stopping Duke's bid for back-to-back crowns?

For all of you non-believers, I have the winning formula in mind for Notre Dame. I have a dream, and it ends with the Irish and Corrigan, their 26th-year coach, taking a victory lap at M&T after derailing the numbingly great Blue Devils (16-3).

The Irish seniors will show up huge on Monday.

Faceoff stud Liam O'Connor will win 60 percent of the draws against senior Brendan Fowler, the reigning final four MVP, and Notre Dame will shoot nearly 40 percent, commit just six turnovers and get a combined six goals from midfielder Jim Marlatt and attackman John Scioscia. Kavanagh will feed those seniors for four of those scores – and score three goals himself.

First-team All-American defenseman Stephen O'Hara and long-stick midfielder Chris Prevoznik will spearhead a matchup zone that lulls Duke into taking too many shots from 12 yards and out and clamps down on attackman Jordan Wolf by holding the first-team All-American to two goals and two assists.

Short-stick defensive midfielder Tyler Brenneman, 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, and Prevoznik will lead a unit that prevents Duke midfield stars Myles Jones and Deemer Class from dominating. And Notre Dame will stay with the high-scoring Blue Devils by battling them to a 50-50 draw on ground balls and matching them with three transition goals.

In the end, the Irish will come from behind to survive. Here's how:

Duke is on the type of roll that demands some dreaming by its opponents.

Down two with three minutes left, Kavanagh beats Duke defenseman Henry Lobb with a step-back, eight-yard rocket. O'Connor wins a huge faceoff cleanly to himself and sends the game into overtime, after Duke refuses to slide to him, leaving O'Connor to beat goalie Kyle Turri with 25 seconds left in regulation.

Two minutes into overtime, junior goalie Conor Kelly cements his MVP weekend with his 19th save – a beauty that blunts Wolf on the doorstep. Kelly snaps an outlet pass to short-stick defensive midfielder Jack Near, who sprints toward the Duke net, finds an alley opening on the right wing, fakes a pass to Scioscia on the crease, and buries a 10-yard runner to lift Notre Dame to a 15-14 victory.

I know it all sounds crazy. But to knock off a colossus such as Duke, you must think the crazy is possible. When a team sustains such a high level of excellence as the Blue Devils have under eighth-year coach John Danowski – eight trips to the final four, two NCAA titles and an NCAA-best 127 wins on his watch – you gotta dream, baby.

America is well-versed in the business of pining for underdogs to take down the kings. And the Blue Devils now are the New York Yankees, Los Angeles Lakers and New England Patriots of the college lacrosse world. We love excellence, but after too much of it, we want to see a new boss.

In the men's lacrosse world, Duke is respected and admired. Every year, the Blue Devils seem to stumble early, then steamroll their competition in April and May. Every year, they uncover new stars, with sophomores Jones and Class the prime examples in 2014. Every year, they play fast and free-wheeling, high-scoring lacrosse.

Duke is on the type of roll that demands some dreaming by its opponents. The Blue Devils are a 17-goal day waiting to happen. They could become the first NCAA champion to win their last three tournament games after having their starting goalie – Luke Aaron – pulled in each game. They lost a great finisher in Josh Dionne to a knee injury, and it hasn't made a difference in their bottom line. From athletic and skills standpoints, Duke appears overwhelming.

And in the past five years, during which the Blue Devils have gone 4-4 against the Irish, they have won when it counts. Four times Notre Dame has beaten Duke in February. On three rematch occasions in the postseason, the Blue Devils have ruled.

Here's something for Notre Dame to hang onto: Duke has never swept a two-game series against the Irish. Back on April 5, the Blue Devils shut out Kavanagh, got a combined 14 points from Wolf and Class and toyed with Notre Dame in a 15-7 rout.

You see, the Irish, who have won rematches this year with Maryland and Syracuse, have the Blue Devils exactly where they want them, right?

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